Minnesota DWI laws (and the DWI laws in most states) define a “drunk driver” as a person operating, driving, or being in physical control of a motor vehicle while he/she is under the influence of alcohol, and/or a hazardous or controlled substance, having a BAC level of 0.08% or higher within two hours, and/or having traces of a Schedule I or II controlled substance in his/her system. Being in physical control of a vehicle generally means the person has relatively easy access to the vehicle’s ignition key and is positioned in such a way that he/she can easily reach the key and turn the vehicle’s engine on – even if the vehicle isn’t moving.
While the above DWI definition seems easy enough to understand, the reality is that DWI law can be very complex in certain cases. Today we’ll tackle an interesting case, and while it’s not a very recent DWI case and it’s not even a case from Minnesota (it occurred in Oct 2011 in Nebraska) it’s still a case that made headlines all over the country and was a huge subject of controversy for motorists, law enforcers, DWI attorneys and lawmakers. Unfortunately, the courts in Minnesota have not followed the logic of the Nebraska Supreme in it’s decision below that private driveways are not public for the purpose of a DUI charge. Nevertheless, the case is still very interesting.
The case in question is of a young man who got arrested for DWI while listening to music while he was drunk sitting inside a parked car in his father’s driveway.
The Case Facts
According to reports, the defendant’s father who saw him intoxicated inside a car in his personal driveway told the son to go away and called the police when the defendant didn’t follow his father’s request. The police officers arrived at the scene and conducted a DWI investigation. The defendant who insisted he wasn’t driving refused to take a breath test and said he would leave the premises. Soon after, the man was arrested. He was eventually charged with Driving While Under the Influence (DWI), refusal to submit to a breath test, possession of open container of alcohol beverage, trespassing, as well as resisting arrest. The officers failed to ask the stepmother of the defendant if she invited her stepson to their house.
The Prosecutors’ Argument
The prosecutors argued that the charge of DUI was applicable to this case since the the incident occurred in a residential driveway and the defendant was in physical control of the car, and that he might have been about to start the vehicle and leave the driveway. Also since the defendant’s vehicle partially overhung the sidewalk, the prosecutors also argued that the vehicle was positioned at least in part on a public property.
Supreme Court’s Explanation
The court explained that the DWI charge doesn’t apply to an individual inside a vehicle on private property not open to public access. Although it is held that the parking lot of an apartment complex can be accessed by the public, the court explained that the defendant’s case was different. The residential driveway is private property not open to public access. The public neither have the right nor implied permission to use or enter a private residential driveway.
With regard to the prosecutors’ argument that defendant’s car was parked at least in part on public property, the court believed that the defendant’s car overhanging the sidewalk didn’t change the fact the driveway was private property not accessible to the general public. To cite an example, the court explained that an individual can’t be guilty of DWI if he drinks an alcoholic beverage while he cleans a car parked in his private driveway but overhanging the sidewalk.
On the police officer’s claim that the defendant said he was leaving, the court said that the man could have committed a violation if he drove his car and left in the presence of the officer. However, the defendant’s statement that he was leaving may have meant that he was considering leaving but eventually changed his mind, even if he was holding the key in the ignition. Also, no one witnessed that the defendant was actually driving his car at that time.
The Court further stated that Fourth Amendment required officers to conduct a thorough investigation on the basic evidence for the offense they suspect, and to question witnesses who are readily available at the scene before invoking the power of warrantless arrest.
The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed all of the defendant’s convictions since it was not unlawful for any citizen to be intoxicated in a vehicle parked on property not open to access by the general public. However, the court allowed a retrial on the defendant’s trespassing charge.
DWI Charges Are Not Always Lawful
As this case demonstrates not all DWI arrests and charges are lawful. Sometimes police officers don’t follow the law properly and unlawfully arrest people for DWI and other crimes. If you have been charged with DWI in the greater Minneapolis Metro area then you need to immediately contact experienced Minnesota criminal and DWI attorney Douglas T. Kans. With 17 years of DWI and criminal law experience Douglas T. Kans can ensure you get the best possible outcome of your DWI case… including getting the case thrown out if your DWI arrest was unlawful.